Stephen Strasburg's long ball marks the game-changing moment of the week

Ian Denomme
Yahoo! SportsMay 22, 2012

It's not often a batter with a career .167 average is heralded as a game-changer. But Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg has this week's game-changing moment – for what he did with the bat.

The National League strikeout leader had just five hits in 40 major-league at-bats heading into Sunday's game with the Baltimore Orioles. After Strasburg surrendered three runs (just one earned) through two innings to the Orioles, the Nationals rallied to tie it in the bottom of the third. In the fourth, Nationals took the lead thanks to the long ball.

No. 8 hitter Jesus Flores hit his first home run of the season to give the Nats their first lead of the game. Then the pitcher helped himself out with all the run support he would need.

With two out, Strasburg hit an 0-2 breaking ball from left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to left-center field that barely cleared the wall above the 377-foot sign to give the Nats a 5-3 lead thanks to the back-to-back homers.

Surprised by his power, Strasburg ran hard to second then went into a slow, deliberate home-run trot. His trot was clocked at 26.15 seconds, the slowest of the day in all of baseball.

The homer was Strasburg's second hit of the day after he singled and scored in the third. It also raised his average on the season to .375 and helped the Nationals to a 9-3 win.

"Shocking, that's for sure," Strasburg said of his homer. "I feel like in [batting practice] I have to swing a lot harder to hit it out. I just somehow ran into one.

"It was great, but I know my place. I'm not a real hitter out there so I'm not going to go out there and act like I do it all the time. … But it was definitely a good feeling."

After giving himself a two-run cushion, Strasburg went out to pitch the fifth inning and struck out the first two batters he faced before getting J.J. Hardy to fly out to end the inning. The strikeouts gave him eight on the day, raising his NL-leading total to 64, four behind major-league leader Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

Strasburg left after the fifth inning, though, due to fatigue and arm discomfort. He struggled in the first two innings but retired the last 10 batters he faced. His bullpen didn't allow a run and finished off the victory.

His heroics, at bat and on the mound, came at the perfect time for the Nationals. They avoided a sweep by the Orioles and ended a three-game losing skid that had knocked them out of first place in the NL East.

Brad Zeigler had what had to be the shortest outing of his career on Thursday – but came away with a lot to show for it.

The Arizona relief pitcher entered their game against the Colorado Rockies in the eighth inning with the Diamondbacks in a jam. After taking a three-run lead in the top of the eighth, the D-backs let it quickly slip away when the Rockies rallied, culminating in a two-out bases-loaded walk tied the game 7-7. Then Zeigler entered.

With the bases still loaded, Zeigler's first pitch to pinch hitter Wilin Rosario was hit sharply to right field where Justin Upton made a sliding catch to end the inning and the threat.

One pitch, one out, and thanks to Upton again, a victory.

In the top of the ninth, Upton hit a two-out, two-run homer to give the Diamondbacks a lead they would keep, making a winner out of Ziegler.